Did Jesus ever have a cold or the flu? Was it possible for him to contract cancer or diabetes?
The answer to that question begins by identifying the four possible states of human nature:
1. Unfallen human nature: The perfect humanity that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall.
2. Fallen human nature: The cursed humanity that Adam and Eve experienced post-fall and passed down to all their descendants.
3. Saved human nature: Still a fallen humanity but it’s now in the process of being redeemed.
4. Glorified human nature: Not just restored to the perfection of unfallen human nature but something even more exalted and wonderful.
So which kind of human nature did Jesus have? He didn’t have a saved human nature because he did not need to be saved. He has a glorified human nature now in heaven, but he did not have that on earth. So we’re left with two options – unfallen human nature or fallen human nature. Which was it?
Luke 1:35 supplies the answer. There, an angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Christ had a holy and unfallen human nature. The intervention of the Holy Spirit in his conception ensured that his humanity was without sin and, therefore, without corruption. Jesus did not inherit any mental, physical, genetic, chemical, electrical, or biological infirmity from Mary and none developed in him. He was never infected with germs, viruses, or disease and he did not transmit them either.
In Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, one of the greatest books ever written on the atonement, George Smeaton wrote:
He saw no corruption, either living or dead – for sickness or disease could not, as a personal quality attach to the sinless One…Disease could not touch Him, because He did not come within the power of sin in the world; and hence we never read of His contracting any distemper or disease like other men.
His body did not see corruption in the grave and it did not see corruption in life either. He was a lamb without blemish (1 Peter 1:19) and a priest without defect (Lev. 21:17). In a sermon on Matthew 8:16-17, Charles Spurgeon put it like this:
Do not think that our Lord Jesus was actually diseased: he suffered greatly, but I read not was upon him. Probably there was no man in whom there was less tendency to natural disease than in him. His pure and blessed body was not subject to the diseases which are brought upon men through sin being in them.
This being so, we can say that Christ would actually never have died unless he had consciously chosen to voluntarily give up his life to death–which, of course, is what he did (John 10:17-18). He would have aged in the sense of growing stronger from infancy to manhood, but he would not have aged in the sense of growing weaker in his body as the decades passed.
An Alien Christ?
Does this not distance Christ from our experience? Does this not make him an “alien” to us when we need someone to identify with us in our human weakness?
There are two answers to this. The first is to distinguish between sinless infirmities (or weaknesses) and sinful (or sin-caused) infirmities. The second is to understand how Christ can perfectly sympathize with us even without actually experiencing everything that we go through. We’ll explore that further tomorrow but let’s first clarify the distinction between sinless weaknesses and sinful weaknesses.
Sinless weaknesses are things like hunger, thirst, and tiredness. These were not caused by sin but were part of the experience of unfallen Adam too (though not to the painful degree we experience them now). They are part of the essence of being limited creatures.
It’s these sinless weaknesses that the Westminster Confession speaks of when it says that Christ “took upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin” (WCF 8.2).
On the other hand, there are sinful weaknesses such as colds, cases of flu, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dermatitis, and so on. These weaknesses are sinful in the sense that sin caused them to enter into human nature via the divine curse upon humanity for sin. They are an essential and large part of what it is to have a fallen human nature.
As such, Christ, as the Holy One, did not and could not contract these illnesses and diseases. He experienced sinless weaknesses to the maximum (especially because his perfect human nature was more tender and sensitive than fallen human nature) but he did not experience sinful weaknesses that are part of fallen human nature. He experienced weakness but not all weaknesses, and he did not need to in order to sympathize with all our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
Bearing Sin Parallel
In The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth, Thomas Goodwin helps us understand this by paralleling the way in which Christ could bear our sins without being personally tainted and the way he bore our sickness without ever being ill.
It may be said of Christ while he was here below that in the same sense or manner wherein he “bore our sickness,” Matthew 8:17, who yet was never personally tainted with any disease, in the same sense or manner he may be said to have borne our sins.
Tomorrow we’ll look at how Christ’s perfect pity also draws him near to us and us to him.